An unofficial blog that watches Google's attempts to move your operating system online since 2005. Not affiliated with Google.

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September 4, 2006

Asking the Internet

Yahoo is very proud of Yahoo Answers, a service that allows you to ask questions and get answers. Unlike Google Answers, asking questions is free. Yahoo has integrated Answers into the search page and expanded the service globally. The growth of the service is impressive.

"The popularity of web search has changed the way we think about the Internet in some pretty odd ways. I've heard more than a few people struggling to answer a question who turn to their keyboard and proclaim, "I'll just ask the Internet" while typing something into a search box.

Amazingly, that works in a lot of cases. When it comes to locating facts, such as the capital of India, web search rocks. But there are many times that keywords just don't cut it—times when you need to ask a question to a group of humans. You know, real people."

This is how Jeremy Zawodny explained one year ago the need for Yahoo Answers. Computers can't answer complicated questions, so why not let other people answer them? Google's idea was to hire professional researchers that received money for answering questions.

So let's compare the answers for a complicated question like: "How to speed up my computer?"

In Google Answers, the researcher writes a long answer and explains step by step how to remove unneeded applications, download an anti-virus and defragment the hard-drive. All for only $2.

The best answer from Yahoo is more simple: "Defragment it. Get rid of viruses. Clean out your temporary internet files. Add more memory (expensive but it might help)."

So both answers are OK, but while Google's researchers give more detailed answers, Yahoo uses the advantage of having a strong community.

Another site, called ChaCha, wants to become the next big search engine, by integrating a live chat with experts that will help you find information on the Internet.

"The value of a service like ChaCha lies in its ability to connect users immediately to a knowledgeable guide, who has experience or background a particular field. Think of it as calling 411 directory assistance on the Web.

Users will connect to a live guide via instant messenger from the ChaCha home page. After a connection is made, within 1 minute or less, the user can ask all kinds of questions of their guides until they get the information they need. The guides, who are organized by their areas of knowledge, will pass on information and Web site addresses that will appear on the user's screen," reports San Francisco Chronicle.

ChaCha is still in alpha, but the idea is interesting. ChaCha wants to combine the experts from Google Answers with a free and fun service like Yahoo Answers. We'll see if 3,000 guides can be enough for the demands of a big audience, but one key feature will make people visit the site: you'll get your answer now.

So, while search engines and encyclopedias are a good way to find answers to simple questions, people want real solutions for their concrete problems. Using other people is a good solution for the moment, but a site that mines the web, libraries and other resources might be a better and more scalable idea. Especially if the site knows something about you.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.